The Columbus North softball team is getting closer.

The Bull Dogs are 0-11 going into today’s game at crosstown rival Columbus East, but they got a shot in the arm last week with the return of pitching ace Madisyn Prince.

North played its first close game of the season Saturday morning in an 8-6 loss to Brown County in the opener of the Brown County Invitational. The Eagles went on to beat Class A No. 2 Hauser for the title.

“From the beginning of the season until now, we’ve improved so much,” Prince said. “When we get everyone back, I think it will be good.”

Prince is one of only two seniors on the Bull Dogs roster. The other senior, second baseman Kaitlin Panning, has missed a few games because of various commitments.

Last fall, Prince was pitching for her Indiana Hustle travel team when she threw a curveball and felt her left knee pop. The torn ACL caused her to miss the Bull Dogs’ first seven games this season.

“It was really frustrating because it was my senior year, and we had a new coach (Ron McDonald) and almost a whole new team,” Prince said. “I was disappointed I was not able to start the season.”

Prince returned on Tuesday. She threw five innings in a loss to Seymour.

But then Prince sprained an ankle at practice on Wednesday and threw only three innings against Franklin Central.

“It’s pretty stressful just because I know I can do better because I’ve done better in the past,” Prince said. “I was really worried that something bad was going to happen, but as I pitched throughout the game, it was easier the more adrenaline I had.”

Saturday, Prince went the distance in the loss to Brown County. She allowed seven hits in six innings.

“Starting out, I haven’t done as well as I would if I was fully back,” Prince said. “Whenever we have big innings and I have to sit a lot, it’s tougher because my knee gets stiff. I have to keep moving.”

Sophomore Charisma Boroughs pitched North’s second game on Saturday, a 14-4, six-inning loss to Brownstown Central. Boroughs and freshman Lilly Hurt had been sharing the pitching duties in Prince’s absence.

Prince is planning to to attend IUPUI, but does not plan to play softball.

“It’s going to take her a little bit to get back,” McDonald said. “Her stamina is down from not being able to do anything. We’re trying to bring her back in slow.”

Meanwhile, the Bull Dogs’ bats have awoken. Sophomore first baseman Bailey Lofton went 3 for 4 with two home runs and five RBIs in the Brown County game.

North has also gotten production from freshman third baseman Sierra Norman and freshman shortstop Brooke Bruin. Another freshman, left fielder, Haylee Medve, just returned from an injury.

“We’ve kind of turned the corner, I think,” McDonald said. “We’re hitting the ball. A lot of times, we’re hitting it right at them. Bailey is stroking the ball real well. So is Sierra, and so is Brooke, and Haley came back and hit it real good, and (freshman catcher) Jenna (Fath) is, too. We’re going a lot deeper down in our lineup with hitters. We just need to get the bottom part going.”

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.